SSRI News Spring 2010 > News Feature

News Feature

Highlighting University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization (UHERO)

The year is off to a great start for researchers in one of SSRI's most prolific units, the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization (UHERO). Under the leadership of Executive Director Carl Bonham, UHERO is rapidly establishing itself as the "go to" organization throughout the State for economic forecasts and analyses. In addition to providing quarterly updates on Hawaii's economy, UHERO faculty and staff have been tackling some of the state's most important public policy issues, such as affordable housing, agricultural land preservation, tax policy, invasive species, and energy and climate change. With 2.5 full time faculty, several very dedicated affiliated faculty, 2 staff, 1 post-doctoral researcher, 4 graduate students, and 5 undergraduate interns, UHERO has grown from a small group of faculty members to a strong and diverse research team.


UHERO recently completed a study on the implications of inclusionary zoning on Oahu's housing market. Results indicated that current policies on Oahu are not effective, and eliminating or reducing the stringency of these policies will likely result in more housing at lower prices. In conjunction with the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, UHERO is working with Kauai County to determine the most ideal parcels on the island to be granted "Important Agricultural Land" designation. With key input from a team of stakeholders and technical advisors, UHERO and DURP will be using a variety of criteria to map these agricultural lands and ultimately recommend where and how the lands should be designated.


Although relatively new to UHERO, Andrew Kato recently published a study of Hawaii's Technology Tax Credit Policy in State Tax Notes. The paper highlights the dangers of creating open-ended government subsidies without including adequate means of monitoring the program's effectiveness. The authors explain why it is not possible (using publicly available data) to determine what, if anything, the State of Hawaii gained for the hundreds of millions of dollars in high technology investment tax credits it awarded and give examples of how investors could have exploited the program.



UHERO's environmental program is thriving. The two main areas of interest in this arena are currently invasive species management and energy and climate policy.


Another relatively new member of UHERO, Kimberly Burnett, is part of a National Science Foundation project to evaluate benefits to the marine ecology from an aggressive program of invasive species removal on the Big Island. The benefits and costs for various types of programs will be compared, providing researchers with a set of policy implications regarding best management practices along the Kona coast.


UHERO just completed an economic assessment of using biological control to manage the invasive Miconia tree in Hawaii. Results suggest that despite the large initial investment, the cost-savings from shifting to this type of control method is justified and recommended for Hawaii. Researchers are gearing up for a new project evaluating the implications of quarantines and/or bans on risky imports potentially carrying dangerous plant diseases such as Ohia rust, a threat to Hawaii's most beloved native tree.


The EGGS (Energy and Greenhouse Gas Solutions) Program at UHERO is also in full swing, modeling the economic impacts of regulating GHGs, optimizing carbon pricing, energy and GHG benchmarking, and developing undergraduate curriculum on the effects of climate change.


Research at UHERO is expected to ramp up further with the announcement of a generous new sponsorship by Bank of Hawaii. Through their three-year pledge totaling $120,000, researchers at UHERO will be even better poised to fulfill their mission of informing public and private-sector economic decision-making through quantitative and analytical research with a particular focus on the economies of Hawaii and the Asia Pacific region.



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